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4th Sunday of Lent - March 31, 2019


Homilia en Español

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By Deacon Tim Papa

“Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: be joyful, all who were in mourning…” The first word of this antiphon for today in Latin is Lætare, or rejoice, and gives the name to Lætare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent and the approximate midpoint of our Lenten journey. We pause briefly today in our preparation for the Lord’s passion and death to remember that the outcome of this pilgrimage is the joyful promise that we share in His resurrection.
All of the readings point to the joy that God offers His people. The first reading is the rejoicing of the Israelites upon entering the Promised Land. They no longer need manna as in the desert, because their new land bears crops. They are also remembering with joy the Passover, in which they received their freedom from slavery in Egypt. For Christians reading this in light of what we know will happen to Jesus, we can easily see that the manna that God provides us today, his Eucharist, will be unnecessary after our death, when we will enter our Promised Land, ensured by the death and resurrection of Jesus at his last Passover on earth.


This too is the theme of the second reading. Paul plainly spells out that the death of Christ has reconciled us to God, being the perfect sin offering. We rejoice in the fact that we are part of Christ’s new creation, where we have the hope of eternal life in the presence of God.
The Gospel parable is primarily about the joy of the father upon the return of his lost son. The father has been waiting for his son to return, seeing him on the road while he was still a far way off. He forgave him without question or reservation. This then is our joy: we, as sinners, do not need to fear that God will not take us back. He is waiting expectantly to take us back – the first step we need to make is the conscience decision to go back to Him.


So if the theme of today is joy, what exactly is that? It is often said that God promises us joy, not happiness, a statement which draws an unmistakable distinction between the two ideas. Pope Francis uses the word joy frequently. His first encyclical was the Joy of the Gospel. Recently, after the synod on the family, he issued an exhortation titled the Joy of Love. Clearly the pope is framing the right relationship of God to His people in terms of joy. We must understand what this means.
Saint Thomas Aquinas defined joy as an “expansion of the heart” (Pope Francis, Amoris Lætitia, 126). We can experience joy in times of happiness, but we can also experience joy even in times of sorrow. In fact, it is through that sorrow we can most fully appreciate the truly important things in life, that is, our relationship to God and to one another. The father of the parable cares not a whit that his lost son squandered half of his fortune; he is joyful to have his son back, and one imagines that for this son his family brings him joy in a way that he never before appreciated in his life, and in a way that is not shared by his brother, whose heart is not expanded to this extent.
The Gospel brings out this distinction between joy and happiness in another way. The good son is not joyful – he is downright resentful. The father reminds that son that he too will get his share of the inheritance, just like his brother. The father unquestionably loves both of his sons. The resentful son should have joy, he should have his heart expanded by the wonderful return of his brother to the family. But he does not rejoice, he rejects the joy of the father, not because it is not offered, but because does not take it. He is trying to earn happiness for himself based on the success he attributes to himself relative to his brother, when he should be finding joy in the father’s love and compassion. The father offers joy in the situation that the family finds itself. The resentful son demands happiness based on his own terms. Both sons returned to the father, one from his doomed adventure, the other from his good work in the fields. But returning is not enough – the sons must each willingly welcome the father’s blessings.


We too, have a choice in life to accept or reject God’s many offers of joy in our lives. We can find joy in helping our less advantaged neighbors through acts of charity in thanksgiving for our many blessing, or we can point out all the ways that they should have ordered their lives more profitably. We can find joy in helping in the parish’s perpetual adoration efforts to praise God, or we can find it burdensome to give more than the hour that we already begrudgingly give up at Mass. We can find joy in reuniting with friends and family that have drifted or fallen apart, or we can nurse grudges and resentment and demand reconciliation under our own terms and conditions. We can choose to be the repentant but joyful son or the self-righteous resentful son. How do we approach the Father, our Father, our God?


I wish you joy that is your birthright as a Christian, should you accept it. I wish you joy not only in your dreams and ambitions for the future but in the situations you find yourself in today. I wish you joy on your Lenten journey to be closer to God. I wish you joy today as we prepare to receive our God in the Eucharist. I wish you joy of the risen Christ at Easter, who reconciles us to the Father. Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: be joyful, all who were in mourning.

By Deacon Jim Hinnerschitz

       In today’s Gospel we hear the familiar parable of the prodigal son.  A story of a father’s love for his two sons and his willingness to make them happy; even if it meant losing one of them to a life of self-indulgence.  A story of forgiveness poured out by the father towards the prodigal son when he returns; a son that was dead but has come back to life.  A story of reconciliation between a father and son; a story of unconditional love.


Some of us may know someone like the younger son or perhaps we may have acted like him at some point in our life.  Turning away from loving parents, leaving all our family responsibilities behind to explore the world.  Only thinking about ourselves and not caring or worrying about our family.  Not caring about how the loving parent and family felt about the emptiness in their life without their child or sibling around.


       But let’s take a closer look at this parable.  The younger son runs out of money and realizes the many mistakes that he has made and the hurt he has caused his loving father.  He decides to go home and ask his father for forgiveness and he even offers to live as one of his father’s hired servants.  The younger son has asked for forgiveness and hopes to be reconciled with his father.  The father is so overjoyed to have his son back and shows him that he is forgiven.


       The older son who has always been at his father’s side and has always obeyed his father is upset when he finds out that his father has welcomed his younger son home and is celebrating this momentous occasion.  The older son refused to welcome his brother home and refused to enter the house and be a part of the celebration.  The older brother does not want to forgive and be reconciled with his younger brother.


       Which son are we like in this parable?  Are we like the younger son who sins against the father and then realizes his mistakes, examines his conscience and asks for forgiveness and reconciliation?  Are we like the older son who is jealous of how his younger brother is forgiven and reconciled with his father; and refused to show forgiveness and love towards his younger brother?  The older son also makes it quite clear how unfair it is that he has always been with the father and never asked for anything and has never been offered to have a feast with his friends.  His pride, jealousy, unwillingness to forgive – all get in the way of reconciling with his brother.
       Unlike his father, the older son was not out looking for his brother to return.  The older son was, in a sense, biding his time, serving his father but without much of a relationship with him despite the father’s love for him.  The younger son asked for his inheritance, showing so much disdain for his father that he essentially told him to his face that he was more valuable dead than alive.  The older son showed that he was not that much different than his brother; he considered working for his father an obligation and was more concerned with what he could get from his father than his relationship with him.


       The older son’s complaints in this parable seem to parallel the complaints of the pharisees and scribes who were scandalized that Jesus shared meals with tax collectors and sinners.  As the Father welcomes both of his sons to the feast, God draws us together, saints and sinners in need of mercy, in the Eucharist we share.


       Our relationship with God is similar to the relationship between the Father in this parable and his younger son, where he forgives the repentant son and restores his family status.  We have the sacrament of Reconciliation that we can use to restore our relationship with God.  We just have to be sorry for our sins, avoid what causes us to sin and pray for God’s forgiveness.  When we receive absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation, our relationship with God is restored.  This is about coming home to the Father and new beginnings with Him.


       Throughout history, no matter how far we have strayed from God, He is like the father in this parable.  God is always patiently waiting for us to take the first step back towards him.  We may not know it, but God doesn’t passively wait for us to come back to him.  On the contrary; He is always, seeking, searching, calling out to us – and offering us whatever grace is needed to take the steps back to him.


       God respects our free will and like the father in this parable He accepts the choices we make and gives us the room to discover our sin and our neediness on our own.  The parable of the prodigal son is a story about finding the courage to face our sins and confess them. It’s a story about a Father who loves his children no matter what sins they commit and wants to forgive his children.  It’s a story of the healing and unity that come about when we decide to return home to the Lord.


       In the reading from Second Corinthians, St Paul implores us on behalf of Christ to be reconciled with God.  Just like the parable in the Gospel, we hear of the importance of being reconciled with God.  Without this reconciliation we are weighed down by our sins.  Sin can lead to a break in our relationship with God.  But we have a forgiving God, one that is willing to forgive us and be reconciled with us.  We can accomplish more with a clean heart and a renewed relationship with the Father.


       The first reading tells of the celebration of Passover in the Promised Land.  The itinerary of the exodus has ended; from now on we must be attentive to what the heart seeks – reconciliation.  In the Gospel, the younger son is reconciled with his father.  St Paul reminds us that God “Reconciled us to himself through Christ”.  The focus of the liturgy today is the entrance into the Promised Land; a return to the father’s house.  But not everybody wants to enter.


We still have a few weeks of lent left to prepare ourselves for the events of Holy Week – Jesus’ passion, death and triumphant resurrection on Easter.  Examining our conscience and then preparing for the sacrament of Reconciliation is a spiritual gift that we should take full advantage of this Lenten season.  At St James there are many opportunities during lent to attend the sacrament of Reconciliation.  If it’s been a while since your last reconciliation, why not come to the penance service this Wednesday, April 3rd at 6:30 PM.  The doors are open to be reconciled with our Lord, we need to take the first step though.  He is waiting for us to be reconciled with him.  Come and experience Christ’s infinite mercy.


       God welcomes home everyone who comes to him.  No matter how big or small the sin; he is always waiting with open arms.  Our God is a loving God.  Our God is a forgiving God.  Our God wants to be reconciled with each of us.  Through His love, forgiveness and reconciliation; we can live a more meaningful and fruitful life with each other.  Come home to your Father, be reconciled with Him and watch new beginnings come to life.


By Deacon Jeff Mevissen

We think of the Prodigal Son as “the wayward son,” or “the black sheep of the fold,” but the word prodigal really means to spend lavishly – to squander ones resources.  That means the younger son was prodigal when he threw his inheritance away on lavish living – but it also means the father was prodigal in the way he loved his wayward son with abandon.


We know the original context of the Parable of the Prodigal Son was Jesus explaining and defending his ministry in which he welcomed sinners and ate with them.  Luke tells three parables in the 15th Chapter of his Gospel – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son – the Prodigal Son.  Through these parables, Jesus expressed how he was sent by God to seek out those who were lost – and rejoice when they are found.

 

The story of the Prodigal Son begins with the son demanding his share of the inheritance.  The father grants the request of the son which leads to the son leaving for a distant place and wasting his money on self indulgence.  Notice that when the son hits rock bottom he realizes he is better off at home.  How does the experience of the Prodigal Son invite us to consider our journey of faith – that we are better off on our way back to our Heavenly Father.  This is where a faith-sharing group helps us see our life in light of Scripture and helps us be honest with ourselves as we search for the path God has set out for us.

 

Then comes one of my favorite lines in Scripture: “While the son was still a long way off, the father caught sight of him and was deeply moved.”  The only way the father could see him a long way off was to be looking for the son every day.  This describes how God is looking for us to return to him and rejoices when we respond.  The father ran to meet his son – which a dignified Jewish father would never do – but that shows the prodigal love of the father – throwing away his love on us who do not deserve it.  This is an excellent Lenten reflection – to consider how much God desires us to return to him with our whole heart.

 

Then the father calls for a fine robe, a ring and shoes.  These were signs of the young man’s relationship as son – his place in the family.  No matter how badly the Prodigal Son had treated his father – no matter how much the son did not care about his father – the father embraces him as his son.  So often we forget we are children of God but God wishes to restore our place in His family.

 

The older son – while he did not stray to a distant land, was not close to his father and did not appreciate his father’s love.  This was the indictment of Jesus on those who criticized his eating with sinners – those who kept the letter of the law but whose hearts were far from God.  This is where adoration keeps us face-to-face with Jesus and ensures we maintain an intimate relationship with Jesus.

 

When we celebrated the Year of Mercy, our slogan was, “Merciful like the Father.”  This means we are called to prodigal and lavish love that does not count the cost.  We had a case at St. James where a man was looking for help and a couple here did reach out to him.  Not only did they assist him out of their own pocket but befriended him and took his needs to heart.  The problem was that the man would not apply for assistance from organizations – he wanted hand outs.  Eventually the man turned on the couple and treated them with contempt.  I believe the couple was merciful like the Father because they loved out of generosity – not because the man deserved it or because the couple was rewarded for their goodness.  My dear brothers and sisters, let us place ourselves in the Parable of the Prodigal Sun.  As we identify with the younger son, let us come to our senses and realize we belong in the House of our Father.  When we identify with the older son, let us resolve to remain intimate with God, in belief, in adoration, in love, and in trust.  And when we identify with the father, let us be merciful as he is merciful.